ACL Surgery - Who Needs Surgery and How Best to Recover

Older adults are more active today than ever before. If you tear your ACL, should you get surgery? How quickly can you recover?

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ACL Surgery - Who Needs Surgery and How Best to Recover
4 Min Read October 29th, 2021 Updated:February 15th, 2022

When you think of an ACL tear, you often think of a professional athlete. However, anyone who is active can experience a tear. You typically hear a popping sound and feel it in your knee, which often indicates an ACL tear.

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery is the most suitable long-term treatment for some ACL tears that are not expected to heal independently. 

If you strain or slightly tear your ACL, it could heal over time with your doctor's help and physical therapy. But if it's completely torn, you may need to have surgery.

The need for surgery depends on the severity of the ACL tear and the person's lifestyle. A completely torn ACL cannot heal independently, and a person with a torn ACL with significant functional instability has an increased risk of developing secondary knee damage.

ACL Surgery Can Be Beneficial for Those Even in Their 60s

Even if you are in your 60s, ACL surgery can be beneficial if you have an active lifestyle. Surgery can be the best option for those who exercise regularly or play sports (softball, golf, tennis, etc.). 

However, most medical experts question the need for surgery when you are older, and other options should be discussed with your doctor.

If you decide to have surgery or have a loved one who has decided to have ACL surgery, you should prepare for recovery to regain a healthy knee. The recovery time for surgery is usually six to nine months.

Care for the Incision

Following the surgery, the goal is to avoid infection, and caring for the incision is vital. The wound is covered with gauze, cotton padding, and a bandage. Typically, you may have a slight fever for up to 48 hours following the surgery.

The few weeks after your surgery, be sure to care for your incision. You don't want to have an infection develop in a knee that is already recovering from an ACL injury and surgery. You'll need to regularly change out the bandages and avoid soaking the wound, like in a bath or pool.

Commit to Physical Therapy

While you might not be a professional athlete fighting to get back on the field, it's essential to your future lifestyle that you work hard to return your knee to its former strength. The only way to do this is by dedicating yourself to your recovery and physical therapy (PT). Physical therapy can help you regain the strength and confidence you once had in your knee.

People will often be ready to commit to their PT right after surgery, but their enthusiasm can wane over time. You certainly won't miss any sessions as you regain mobility for your everyday life. But are you willing to stick with it once you can walk around easily? It's best to stick with PT until you've regained your full range of motion and power. If you don't feel comfortable running around a track on your knee, you probably still need more recovery time.

Don't Push Yourself Too Early

As much as physical therapy is about pushing your limits, you need to know what those limits are. A physical therapist is trained on how to work out your knee without reinjuring it. But if you start independently exercising on a knee that isn't ready, you could seriously reinjure yourself. That's why you'll need to take it easy at the beginning, and slowly, over time, you'll be able to build up to what you were previously capable of doing.

The Value of Rest

Recover is a double-edged sword; you have PT on one end and rest on the other. Your knee needs time to heal from the surgery and the injury. Since it is such a long recovery process, there is a tendency to devalue the power of rest over time, but it is possibly the most crucial part of healing. Your body needs time for the tissue to heal and to gain back the strength and stability it once had.

By utilizing these tips for a speedy recovery from ACL surgery, hopefully, your knee will return to its former state as soon as possible.

ACL and Those Over Age 40

Active older adults want to return to their everyday lifestyles as soon as possible. For many people, especially those over age 40, nonsurgical treatment is often the effective way to go. However, many active individuals are hesitant to consider nonsurgical options as it may just delay the necessary surgery down the road. In addition, older adults often have some arthritis in the knee joint, which may complicate the success of any treatment for those with a torn ACL.

Discussing your concerns with your doctor and getting a second opinion is usually the best way to move forward and make suitable treatment options. 

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

Editor's Note

Getting older means changes in our bodies. While a torn ACL is usually reserved for athletes and those with very active lifestyles, aging causes arthritis to our knees and other joints. The pain for knees and hips, for example, often requires treatment and even joint replacements.

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